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Are You Being Served PR or Publicity?

Like most people who enjoy dining out, when I go to a restaurant I like to read the menu descriptions in detail so I can make an informed selection. Sounds logical and reasonable, right? If I order filet mignon, and a grilled cheese sandwich arrives in its place, I am relatively certain I could tell that I received the wrong item. However, if a cut of tenderloin arrives, I’m not so sure I could discern between tenderloin and filet mignon.

Now, what does all of this have to do with public relations? The food analogy struck me over a business lunch a few weeks ago when a business associate of a small start-up company kept insisting that he didn’t need publicity for his company — he wanted PR.

He explained to me that he simply wanted some quick “good ink” in a few trade journals, The Wall Street Journal and an executive profile of himself in Forbes. What he described was publicity not public relations. This poor fellow was confused between tenderloin and filet mignon – both taste great, both look similar – but there is a difference. And so it goes with publicity and PR.

People readily understand advertising, promotional contests, give-aways, sales, etc., but the practice of public relations leaves most people scratching their heads with imaginary question marks swirling above.

The Public Relations Society of America defines PR as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” Simply put, PR is all about building long-term, transparent, relationships via various media platforms and efforts with your given publics, consumers, constituencies, or audience. Public relations is a strategic process, not a temporary tactic.

On the other hand, publicity is a tactic used to attract attention to a momentary occurrence – an announcement, release, debut, etc., the general purpose is to generate positive awareness through various media platforms of a product, person or event. The word “publicity,” unfortunately, has become a catchall for public relations (not unlike how “Kleenex” has come to be used to describe any facial tissue, or “Xerox” for any copy). Additionally, publicity is generally associated with the entertainment industry or performing arts. Few Fortune 500 corporations have a “publicity” department, but most have a public relations area.

So, the next time you find yourself with a menu of marketing options firmly in hand, choose wisely between publicity and public relations. If you don’t, you may end-up with a grilled cheese sandwich.

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